Race Weekend Central

5 Points to Ponder: Ill-Advised Debuts, Hires & Tire Contracts

ONE: An Ill-Advised Cup Debut for Austin Dillon

The current Truck Series points leader is slated for a full assault on the Nationwide Series championship in 2012, but he’s also popped up on the entry list for this weekend’s Cup race at Kansas, driving the No. 98 under Mike Curb’s ownership banner. Though Austin Dillon has only 11 career Nationwide Series starts under his belt, the unprepared for Cup argument really doesn’t hold all that much water … the driver has been an established contender on the Truck circuit the last two seasons.

Plus, even though the No. 98 is technically going to be a single-car team, making a partial schedule attempt, don’t doubt for even a second that there won’t be some Richard Childress Racing help all over that entry.

There is still an argument to be made against Dillon racing this Sunday (Oct. 9), though. Why Sprint Cup now?

Sure, the Truck Series has an off-weekend as the Cup and Nationwide circuits turn to Kansas Speedway, and Dillon has proven a more than capable driver both at the Nationwide level and on intermediate ovals. But just think of the risks. Even if RCR slaps its touch all over Dillon’s No. 98 car, it’s still going to be a part-time car in the midst of a Chase race. The big boys are bringing their A-game and the circuit has been ruthlessly unkind to part-time cars in recent seasons. In short, Dillon in a best-case scenario will be lucky to run around 20th.

Worst case? He fails to qualify, wrecks or ends up running five laps down in 33rd all day, proving overwhelmed in trying to learn the Cup CoT. All of those are more than a threat to a driver’s confidence, especially for one in a razor-tight championship battle who’s still, for all intents and purposes developing as a stock car racer.

Dillon’s not going Cup racing next year, nor should he be. Want to do a single-car debut? Do it like RCR did with Clint Bowyer back in 2005: middle of the season, before the points race heats up. Kansas is a fine track to do it, too … just the spring 2012 race instead.

TWO: Bowyer a Risky Hire for Michael Waltrip Racing

Bowyer can drive, there’s no doubting that. But so can Martin Truex Jr.

Despite having almost two complete years with the two-time Nationwide Series champion as the face of their flagship NAPA racing team, MWR has struggled royally as an organization, with no wins and only four top-five finishes between two cars and a third satellite entry at JTG Daugherty Racing.

Look closer and there’s a whole lot of parallels between the Clint Bowyer MWR is expected to hire on Friday and the Martin Truex Jr. they hired a few years back. Both drivers left their longtime homes – the teams that gave them their first shots – on the heels of disappointing seasons where they expected to do more (Bowyer missed the Chase this year and has been at the center of RCR’s midseason inconsistency, while Truex slipped to a career-worst 23rd in points in 2009, the same year that teammate Juan Pablo Montoya stormed into the Chase).

Both drivers were/are in the midst of cooling periods after hot starts in their move from Nationwide to Cup racing (Bowyer hasn’t had a single-digit points finish since 2008, while Truex was in the midst of a two-year winless streak that’s still ongoing).

And if Truex’s current experience over at MWR is any indication, Bowyer’s not going to be the answer to get the team turned into a Chase contender – even if the satellite team becomes a legitimate third operation. Talented driver or not, Bowyer has not proven able to succeed even as the rest of the team flounders, a la Kevin Harvick‘s Chase appearance this season in the middle of Jeff Burton‘s worst campaign in recent memory and the inconsistency of both the No. 33 and Paul Menard.

One look at the stats sheet of both Truex and David Reutimann at MWR says one thing; the house that Michael built is looking awfully similar to Richard’s. Why would the on-track results suddenly be any different?

See also
The Yellow Stripe: Clint Bowyer's Proposed Move to MWR Fraught With Personal Peril

THREE: Successful or Not, Pastrana Deserves Some Credit

Though his planned NNS debut was to be this past August at ORP, Travis Pastrana is to be commended for his recent announcement that he will be retiring from X Games competition in favor of fully focusing on his stock car future, with plans to run up to 20 NNS races next season pending sponsorship. That full focus is going to sorely be needed. Compared to Ricky Carmichael, open-wheel converts and others that have made the jump to stock cars, Pastrana’s experience in K&N cars and late models is still going to be thin.

That being said, Pastrana’s decision to fully commit to NASCAR racing is an excellent follow-up story to Carmichael, who went from being a motocross superstar to another face in the pack at the NASCAR level. Surely, Carmichael has struggled at times but he’s made great strides learning to race stock cars, never once proving to be a hazard to his fellow competitors.

With Pastrana making the jump to such a high level of competition, the chances of being overwhelmed on the track or a becoming a danger to others goes up and the margin for error down. If he’s going to make this move, attempting success it’s imperative that it get his full attention.

I still question the wisdom of jumping to Nationwide competition at this point, though. Why Pastrana, with all of the backing he’s undoubtedly going to secure from his extreme sports sponsors, isn’t taking a season to run K&N and ARCA is clearly not a decision being driven by driver development wisdom or a performance-related matter.

But at least his head’s in the right place.

FOUR: Germain to Chevrolet? Count on It

Germain Racing has won two Truck Series titles and countless races since entering the sport, and done it all carrying Toyota on the grill and under the hood. But thanks to constraints on TRD’s engine program, Germain’s new focus on the Cup side is taking a back seat to Joe Gibbs Racing and MWR (TRD can provide six sets of engines a year, leaving Germain’s No. 13 car out of luck for 2012). That leaves Germain looking elsewhere for power, as pledges made by the team to their sponsors were to obtain better motors for the upcoming season.

The answer, here is an obvious one. The team’s driver is Casey Mears, and where has Mears driven before? Hendrick Motorsports, a team that almost to a fault will continue backing its drivers even after giving them the heave-ho. Landon Cassill found himself out of a ride after winning the Nationwide Rookie of the Year award in 2008, yet resurfaced as a full-time Cup driver for Hendrick’s de facto R&D team at Phoenix Racing.

Blake Feese came back from complete obscurity after washing out of the team’s Nationwide Series program in 2006 to land a part-time gig driving a truck for Turner Motorsports … which found substantial help from HMS during their debut year with Chevrolet as a multi-entry operation.

And there’s the obvious, unspoken connections to Brian Vickers and the Red Bull Racing camp that’s largely taken the form of the previous MB2 Motorsports, giving Kasey Kahne a one-year, seat-warming assignment before moving to … Hendrick Motorsports.

Chances of Mears landing an engine deal for a team finding the light of the bowtie? All signs point to yes.

FIVE: Bad Timing for a Goodyear Announcement

Thanks to a newly-inked contract, Goodyear is the exclusive tire provider for NASCAR through 2017. No competition to make Goodyear’s product better, no real incentive to get better. Instead, until 2017 these God-awful spec cars are going to race around on the same rock-hard donuts that played a large role in the past weekend’s Dover races largely resembling high-speed parades.

Hooray monopoly.

About the author

Richmond, Virginia native. Wake Forest University class of 2008. Affiliated with Frontstretch since 2008, as of today the site's first dirt racing commentator. Emphasis on commentary. Big race fan, bigger First Amendment advocate.

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